By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, March 13, 1937.
“At last,” said Jimmie Frise, “at long last, I am about to buy a new car.”
“Jim,” I congratulated him, “it’s about time. What make are you choosing?”
“When I say a new car,” stated Jim. “I do not mean a new car in the full meaning of the word. It will be a used car.”
“Oh, not another second-hand car,” I protested.
“A used car,” repeated Jim. “There ought to be a better word than used car. Matured car. Ripe car. Car tuned in or broken in.”
“Broken in,” I assured him, “is the word. Will you never learn to profit by other people’s mistakes?”
“I do profit by other people’s mistakes,” said Jimmie, “Profit very neatly too. And the only mistake they make is turning in a car just when it is getting prime.”
“You’ve never yet bought a new car,” I accused him. “In eighteen years you have never had anything but used cars.”
“I would just as soon,” declared Jim, “pick a green banana off the tree and eat it as buy a new car. I like my cars to be run in and matured before I get them. Let somebody else pay for a lot of shine and a stiff engine. Let somebody else have the grief of seeing dents and scratches come on that investment. Let somebody else have the doubtful pleasure of driving it during its infancy at twenty-five miles an hour for the first 500 miles and thirty miles an hour for the next 500 miles.”
“If you have never had the pleasure of driving a beautiful smooth new car, Jim,” I informed him, “you are hardly in a position to judge that pleasure.”
“Let somebody else,” continued Jimmie, “have the fun of paying for all the adjustments and replacements that have to be made on a car before it is right.”
“New cars,” I advised, “are guaranteed for 90 days.”
“Yes,” said Jim, “and for the first 80 days you own a new car, you are conscious of it every time you are in it. You take special care of it. Give it oil. Treat it with consideration. There is blame little likely to happen the works of a new car in the first 90 days. But in about 180 days, you lose that first fine rapture and begin to put the car really to work. You have lost your silly pride in it. You step on it. You neglect its oil and grease a little. Whatever defects there were in it come to the surface. And our proud first owner has to pay for those corrections.”
“You make me feel,” I said, “as if I had been a fool for fifteen years.”
“There always have to be fools,” said Jim kindly. “But I have a line on a car, a swell sport model Allnox Eight.”
“What year?” I asked.
“A 1930,” said Jim. “But it has belonged to a man who has spent most of his time abroad and down in Florida. A rich guy, apparently. And it has spent most of its life in a garage. It has only gone 16,000 miles.”
“The price?” I asked.
“Prepare yourself,” said Jim triumphantly. “Get set. Take hold of something for support. Only $400.”
“There must be something wrong with it,” I said. “A new Allnox Eight is $2,200.”
With a Weasel Smile
“I Telephoned this guy last night,” said Jim excitedly. “It’s a private deal. No dealers, he said. He’s going on another trip abroad and he says he sees no reason for keeping this car laid up in his garage all the time. But he realizes it is a 1930 model and he is willing to let it go at a nominal figure, despite its wonderful condition.”
“What color is it?” I asked.
“Daffodil yellow,” cried Jimmie. “And he says it looks as if it had just come from the factory.”
“Are you going to see it?” I inquired.
“Am I going to see it?” shouted Jim. “Have I got the $400 in my mitt? Have I an appointment to see it at noon to-day?”
“How about …?” I began.
“Certainly,” said Jim. “I expect you to come with me.”
The neighborhood to which we drove to inspect the Allnox Eight was hardly the type of district a rich man would choose to live in. As a matter of fact, we were doubtful if we had the right house when we rang the bell because there were “roomer” signs in the windows. But this was all explained by Mr. Gitch when the landlady called him to the door.
Mr. Gitch was a small lean man who looked as if he were wearing somebody else’s clothes. He had a smooth tapered face that made him look like either a fox or a greyhound, and his eyes had that slitty, greyhound appearance of being able to see around to the back. Still, lots of men look rather funny by the time they are rich. You can’t get rich for nothing, I always say.
“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Gitch, softly, coming out on the porch, “I have the car around at the back. You will pardon my diggings here, but as I explained to you, I am seldom in Toronto; and whenever I am, I stay with this dear old soul who was a chum of my dear mother.”
He led us around the narrow side entrance and through a yard full of junk and boxes, to a lane. All the way through, he continued to explain in his soft, tender voice.
“After stopping at such places as the Ritz in London,” he smiled, “and the Ambassadoria in Rio and the Hotel London in Shanghai, you would imagine I would find it a little irksome to stop in a neighborhood like this.”
He smiled up at us from under his forehead and shook his hand delicately at the junk around. It seemed to me I had seen a weasel smile at me like that in the instant it had appeared and disappeared in the grass along a country fence.
“But this dear old body,” he chuckled, “would be simply heart broken if she heard I was in Toronto and had not stayed with her.”
He pushed through a hole in the back fence where a plank was off, and there, there, stood the Allnox Eight.
Daffodil yellow, sure enough and gleaming, flatly, indeed, as if she had come straight from the factory. Not a dent or scratch marred her satiny glowing surface.
“Why, she looks new,” cried Jim, walking around the beauty.
“Oh, I had her washed up,” admitted Mr. Gitch, frankly.
Inside, her upholstery was covered with dust covers of a snappy color and design, securely fastened down with tapes. It seemed to me that here and there, faint signs of age showed on her, such as the nickel of the lamps and the felt around the windows. I wordlessly placed my fingers on these slight omens, but Jimmie ignored my hints and walked around the car with increasing excitement.
“Nature is Completely Honest”
Mr. Gitch followed him with a curious softness of foot and voice that made me think of a cat.
“Hop in,” said Mr. Gitch. “We’ll take a spin.”
He drove. We rolled smoothly along the lane and into the streets full of bakers’ wagons and under-school-age children. Mr. Gitch raced the engine to show its power, since, obviously we could not let her out in these narrow streets.
“Listen to that,” cried Jim. “Has she ever got power!”
“At 16,000 miles,” said Mr. Gitch.” these American cars are on a par with European cars such as I am familiar with, I should say she was just nicely run in.”
He steered her around the block and back into the lane, where we dismounted.
“How about it?” asked Mr. Gitch and while I could not be sure, it seemed to me I saw his hands clutching and unclutching the way a hawk’s talons do.
“It’s a deal,” said Jim. “Can you drive her downtown to my office? We’ll drive down there and meet you and close the deal.”
“That,” said Mr. Gitch, “would suit me perfectly.”
“Meet me in half an hour then,” said Jim, “right in front of the office. I’ll be waiting there.”
We hastened out to my car and as I slammed the door, I cried:
“Jim, there’s something phoney about this whole thing. Call it off. Have the car examined by a mechanic.”
“What’s that?” demanded Jim, coming out of his trance.
“Something phoney,” I repeated. “I don’t like the man.”
“It’s the car we are buying,” retorted Jim. “Is there anything wrong with the car?
“Nature,” I declared, “is pretty honest in puting on the outside of all her packages a description of the contents. A crow is black and evil looking. A fox is sly and slinky. A deer is graceful and timid and shy-looking. If a man looks like a pig, you are generally pretty safe in assuming that he is a pig. ‘If a man looks like a fox, he is generally sly. If he…”
“What are you giving us?” snorted Jim.
“It’s a fact,” I assured him. “Nature is completely honest. She rarely fakes the outside of a bad package. Men are different. They can fake up the outside to look like a million dollars. That man reminded me of a fox, a weasel and hawk. I don’t like him.”
“Listen,” said Jim, “if we went around buying stuff only from the people we liked the look of, where would we be at?
“We would be a lot better off,” I stated.
“I guess,” smiled Jim, “you’re just a little jealous. As a new car buyer, you are just a little ribbed on seeing what kind of deals can be made if you look around. Oh, boy, can you see me sailing around in that yellow baby? That’s a sportsman’s car. Can you see me going to the races in it? Or out in the country, on a fishing trip?”
“Jim,” I said, “it’s phoney. It looks all right, it seemed to run all right. But that man is a weasel.”
“Haw, haw,” laughed Jim.
So we came to the office and parked my car and went and stood in front of the building to await Mr. Gitch. As we stood there waiting, our old friend Constable McGonigle came sauntering along and stopped to have chat with us. He belongs to the anglers’ association and is one of the most distinguished pike fishermen in the country despite his enormous size. Most good anglers are on the small side, but Constable McGonigle is a notable exception. We chatted merrily about the fast approaching season, Jimmie keeping a weather eye open for Mr. Gitch and Constable McGonigle keeping a weather eye open for sergeant; and suddenly Jimmie cried:
“Here he comes.”
Waiting For Delivery
Mr. Gitch in the magnificent yellow car was slowing down to come in to the open space where we were standing.
But suddenly he seemed to change his mind. He swung the wheel and stepped on the gas and with a roar of the engine leaped away and all we could see was the great yellow car vanishing along the street swaying in the traffic.
“What the dickens,” said Jim.
“What was all that?” asked Constable McGonigle.
So we explained to Constable McGonigle about the impending purchase and arranged to take him along with us on the first fishing trip in the new car which, in honor of the trout fly of that name, we agreed to call Yellow Sally. And he sauntered on, leaving Jimmie and me to wait for Mr. Gitch to come back around the block.
“Maybe,” said Jim, “he was just showing us how it handles.”
“Maybe,” I suggested, “he thought this space wasn’t big enough for him to park.”
We waited five minutes, ten minutes: no Mr. Gitch. We walked up to the end of the block both ways and looked. No Mr. Gitch. We walked right around the block and met Constable McGonigle again but he said he had noticed no yellow car.
At the end of an hour, we decided to go back to Mr. Gitch’s and see what had happened. A sad little old lady opened the door and we asked for Mr. Gitch.
“Mr. Who?” said she.
“Mr. Gitch,” we explained, “the gentleman we called for this morning about a big yellow car he was selling.”
“Oh, him,” said the landlady. “He only rented the room for an hour this morning. I never saw him before.”
“Ah,” said Jim.
“But,” said the lady, “maybe you could get him at a garage three streets over. I forget the name, but they have a big garage three streets over. I noticed that big yellow car backing out of it only yesterday, the same one he had in the lane this morning.”
Hastily Jim and I drove along to the garage which we found without trouble and we asked for the boss.
“A big yellow car?” he said. “Sure, we did the paint job on it just this week.”
“Paint job,” said Jim.
“One of the best paint jobs we ever did,” said the boss. “It set him back $70. But he insisted. We did a swell paint job and we trimmed up all the nickel and we sewed down a new set of dust covers on the seats and you wouldn’t know it from a new car hardly. That is, by the looks.”
“Was it in pretty good shape?” asked Jim.
“Pretty good shape?” asked the boss. “It was the worst old wreck I ever had in this place. He got it for $50 and he spent $70 on it. Can you imagine that?”
“Heh, heh,” laughed Jimmie.
“But he said in his business – he’s a salesman,” explained the garage boss, “he says appearances are everything.”
“Well, if he turns up,” said Jim, “tell him a couple of people were looking for him.”
“I doubt if he’ll be back,” said the boss. “He told me he was heading for California.”
So we drove back down town, and on the way, we stopped and bought a nice box of cigars for Constable McGonigle.
And Jim says it is always best to take a mechanic along with you when you got to look at a used car.
Editor’s Notes: “Allnox 8” is a made up car name, and is a play on words for cars of that era. The “8” would be an indication that it was an 8 cylinder engine, and “Allnox” is a joke on the term “Nonox” which meant “No Knocks”, an engine that would not “knock” thanks to additives to gasoline like lead. It would only be later that it was discovered that leaded gasoline was bad for the environment and for human health.
$400 in 1937 equals $7,400 in 2021. $2,200 would be $40,600. $50 would be $925.